Whoopi Goldberg's Confusion about Racism and the Holocaust Matters Because it's CommonRoundup
tags: Jewish history, racism, Holocaust history, Whoopi Goldberg
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author (with Signe Wilkinson) of Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn.
When I teach about race in American history, I always begin the lesson with a simple question: What race am I?
“White,” my students say.
“No, I’m Jewish,” I reply.
Jaws drop, and a few angry hands shoot up. I call on one of the students, knowing exactly what the speaker will say: Jews aren’t a race. They’re a religion, or a culture, or a heritage, or a tradition. But not a race.
“You’re right,” I say, “for now.” But for most of our past, I add, Jews were indeed considered a separate race. Into the 1940s, immigration authorities recorded them as a distinct racial group.
That’s the part of history that Whoopi Goldberg missed, when she told “The View” on Monday that the Holocaust was not “about race.”
Of course it was. The Nazis viewed Jews not just as a race, but as an inferior and dangerous one. And they tried to eliminate Jews on precisely those grounds.
Goldberg's comments earned her a tsunami of social-media vituperation and a two-week suspension from ABC News, whose president urged her to "reflect and learn." But I hope the rest of us can use this moment to reflect and learn about our own racial categories, too. They are historical and cultural inventions, every bit as much as the idea of a Jewish “race” was.
Tragically, race tricks us into thinking that our differences are biological: in other words, that they lie in our bodies. And that's the biggest lie of all.
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